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England cricket

September 1, 2014

Anderson or Trueman?

Bill Ricquier

Best bowler England has ever produced? © PA Photos

"He is the best bowler England has ever produced."

Alastair Cook's verdict on his opening bowler, James Anderson, delivered on the eve of England's fifth Test against India at The Oval, was entirely understandable. Anderson, with help from Stuart Broad, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ian Bell among others, had given Cook a get-out-of-jail-free card. In fact Cook's most generous benefactors were the Indians themselves. Their precipitate decline into incompetent submissiveness was reminiscent of the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire after the battle of Austerlitz.

Anderson played a major part in this. His ability to swing the ball either way, seemingly at will, presented the Indian top order with questions they were simply not capable of answering.

He is peerless in English conditions, fast-medium rather than fast, but with a mastery of line and length that recalls the discipline of a bygone era. And his effectiveness is not limited to the home front. Like most Englishmen he will want to cast a veil over the 2013-14 visit to Australia but he was pivotal to England's victory Down Under three years earlier.

But England's best bowler ever? Of course comparisons between cricketers - or performers of any sort - of different eras are notoriously difficult.

Almost fifty years to the day before Cook's accolade, Fred Trueman became the first bowler to take 300 wickets in Tests, when Colin Cowdrey caught Neil Hawke at slip in the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval. Trueman had started life as an out-and-out quick. He and the great Alec Bedser (the Anderson of his day) reduced India to 0 for 4 in their second innings at Headingley in 1952, which makes Manchester's 8 for 4 seem almost respectable. Trueman, rarely sure of a regular place in the England line-up boosted his natural talent by turning himself into a really clever bowler, like Anderson. At his peak, in the early 1960s he won Test matches virtually single-handed against Richie Benaud's Australians in 1961 and Frank Worrell's West Indies in 1963.

Trueman finished with 307 wickets in 67 Tests at an average of 21.57 and a strike rate of 49.4: Of the 300-plus brigade only Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and Glenn McGrath took their wickets at a better average, and only Dale Steyn, Waqar Younis, Marshall and Allan Donald have better strike-rates. Anderson has 380 Test wickets in 99 games at an average of 29.72 and at a strike-rate of 58.1.

One is tempted simply to say QED but of course times have changed. Averages in particular have changed. Just as in life, fifty is the new forty so cricket statistics have to be re-assessed (so what do we do about Steyn, expressly compared by Cook to Anderson, who has taken 383 wickets in 75 Tests at an average of 22.56?)

Things have got easier for batsmen. Covered wickets, heavier bats, bouncer restrictions, the arrival of Bangladesh as perennial whipping boys (Bell averages 158.25 in six Tests against them) are calculated to drive up batting averages and put a corresponding dent in bowling figures. Of the 43 Test batsmen with batting averages of over fifty, nineteen have had careers which stretched into or have been comprised totally in the twenty-first century. Anderson - like Steyn - has been bowling in a batsman's paradise.

Fred Trueman bowls, May 1953
Fred Trueman had a better record than Jimmy Anderson's, but his era was a kinder one to bowlers Carl Sutton/Picture Post / © Getty Images

When Trueman got his 300th Test wicket in 1964, the top twelve Test wicket-takers of all time were either Englishmen or Australians. It was similar with the batting, though Everton Weekes of the West Indies sneaked, or rather blasted, in at number ten. England's Walter Hammond had been Test cricket's leading run-scorer since 1937 and remained so until 1970.

How things have changed from the days of that Anglo-Australian duopoly! Ian Botham, who retired over 20 years ago, remains England's leading Test wicket-taker, with 383. He is only 14th on the all-time list; every Test playing country except Zimbabwe and Bangladesh has someone ahead of him. Things are not quite as bad with the batting. Graham Gooch (retired 1994) remains in front but there are no Pakistanis or New Zealanders ahead of him. Cook, still only 29, is fewer than 500 runs behind his mentor.

There are all sorts of explanations for this. But the fact is that Trueman was playing in a golden age of English cricket. His contemporaries included five middle-order batsmen who could genuinely be called great - Peter May, Tom Graveney, Colin Cowdrey, Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter. Have there been any since, apart from Kevin Pietersen? (Sure, David Gower and Graham Thorpe will have their champions.) Trueman's bowling contemporaries, apart from Bedser, included Brian Statham, Frank Tyson and Jim Laker. The wicketkeeper, Godfrey Evans, was one of the best ever.

Trueman, asked if he thought anyone would emulate his unprecedented achievement, famously replied that if anybody did they would be bloody tired. Well maybe. But a succession of bowlers from all around the world, culminating with Muttiah Muralitharan's surely impregnable 800 Test wickets, have put things in perspective.

Anderson clearly shares some of Trueman's chippiness. But he does not appear to have his distinguished forebear's almost disarming lack of self-awareness. In the final chapter of his magnificent biography of Trueman - unquestionably a must for any cricket library purporting to be "complete" - John Arlott recalls asking the great Yorkshireman what the book should be called.

The response came without a moment's hesitation: "T'Definitive Volume of T'Finest Bloody Fast Bowler that Ever Drew Breath".

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Comments have now been closed for this article

Posted by Jon on (September 4, 2014, 9:51 GMT)

For me Trueman was way better. Jimmy is a very good bowler when there is swing and he's in the grove. When there is no swing and/or he's not in the grove, he is very very average.

I would even go so far as to say Gough was a better bowler than Jimmy. He played in a very very poor England side. Had terrible luck with injuries. And has a better average and strike rate than Jimmy. Plus Gough played a lot of his cricket against one of the best teams in world cricket in the Aussies at the time.

Posted by Edwin on (September 4, 2014, 7:37 GMT)

I wouldn´t put Anderson in the top 10 of English bowlers let alone at No. 1. Regardless of the era, averaging around 30 is a poor return - even Fraser and Gough, neither who could be deemed as great players, averaged 28 or so and bowled against far better batsmen, with no weak teams around to bolster their figures.

Posted by Dummy4 on (September 4, 2014, 1:27 GMT)

Its time Cook concentrated on his captaincy. When he has proved himself as a captain then perhaps we might listen to him.

Posted by Asaduzzaman on (September 4, 2014, 0:25 GMT)

Anyway, I do not think this is a matter to discuss seriously. Cook is captain. His team had a bad period. Test series against India gave him some fresh breath. So, praising Anderson in this way is a nice way to inspire the team.

Posted by Asaduzzaman on (September 4, 2014, 0:20 GMT)

Ridiculous! both writing and comparison. Sydney Barnes is the best from England. Then probably Fred Trueman, Alec Bedser, Harold Larwood, Frank Tyson, Maurice Tate, etc. among the great fast /fast medium bowlers..... No place for Anderson in upper 5. Look at average, strike rate, impact, popularity, and opposition.

Posted by Rajan on (September 2, 2014, 16:05 GMT)

'The best bowler England has produced' according to Cook is James Anderson. Whose figures in the current One-Day series after three completed matches are: 23 overs 2 maidens 124 runs 0 wickets. Some figures for England's best bowler of all time. Cook may find the captaincy a sinecure, but he has no excuse for his lack of knowledgea of England's cricket history. Among medium pacers, the best of all time, among all countries,mate arguably all English: Sidney. Barnes, the greatest of all fast-medium bowlers, followed in the great tradition by Maurice Tate, followed by Alec Bedser. Among fast bowlers, England have Harold Larwood, Frank Tyson, and Fred Trueman. In deference to English cricket, and its greatest exponents, Cook should refrain from making such asinine comments. We may have to suffer his captaincy, for as along apparently as he wants it, but having to suffer his foot-in-the-mouth along with it is a bit too much.

Posted by Richard on (September 2, 2014, 12:41 GMT)

England's All-Time XI seam attack would be Larwood, Trueman, Botham, Hammond - Anderson wouldn't even get close. When you consider the career of Harold Larwood, perhaps the finest fast bowler who ever drew breath, the current mollycoddled England setup don't even know they're born.

Posted by Alan on (September 2, 2014, 11:49 GMT)

Difficult to compare the generations of bowlers yet we seem to have no difficulties when it comes to batsmen. Given the vastly different conditions of pitches, the quality batsmen Trueman tackled may give him an edge. But perhaps His greatest advantage that Anderson doesn't have is that Trueman could bring the crowds in. People wanted to see him. It is also doubtful that Anderson will be a have a past that has some mythology to it. Sledging? Trueman had that down to an art and his humour was brilliant. All go to making him the better bowler, it was part of his craft. And of course Anderson despite all his talents is not a Yorkshireman!

Posted by David on (September 2, 2014, 9:16 GMT)

Re: Uncovered pitches. Lillee, Ambrose, mcgrath, holding, marshall, garner, Croft, , Donald, Pollock, imran khan, waqar, wasim, murali, Hadlee-even ryan Harris all played on covered pitches yet averaged below 24 over the past 40 years. Perhaps because there are no Englishmen on the list, people find ways of shoe horning a good bowler into the company of the greatest. Anderson is very good but would struggle to hold down a place in the Australia or SA teams.

Posted by Samrat on (September 2, 2014, 8:15 GMT)

"A Champion in one era,will always be a champion in the other".Its hard to compare players across different eras,better to be limited to naming the best fast bowler of that particular era.Even then,Anderson isnt the best fast bowler of this era,let alone be better than "fiery".Taking wickets in this era might be difficult coz everything is heavily loaded in favour of the batsman,but even then if we look at the techniques of the modern day batsman,I am pretty sure none of them would have enjoyed the averages they are boasting of now.By the way,let alone fiery or Jimmy.Maco is the greatest fast bowler of all time,followed by daylight.

Related Links
Players/Officials: James Anderson | Fred Trueman
Teams: England

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